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HOTL remodeling plans revealed

The new Early Childhood Family Education wing of Heart of the Lakes Elementary School will feature a distinct entrance and fenced playground area, as well as classrooms geared toward the district’s youngest students.

Teachers and other school staff, along with local architects, have visited a number of new schools over the past several weeks to look at classroom arrangements and programming to get ideas for the Perham-Dent School District’s building plan for the elementary school, approved by voters last November.

Heart of the Lakes Elementary School is the focus of phase one of the district’s overall improvement plans, with the middle and high schools planned in the next phase.

The Perham-Dent School Board and community  members learned about the plan for the elementary school during a work session and community meeting at the high school last Wednesday.

The plan calls for an Early Childhood Family Education wing, along with a pod concept for the fourth graders, preparing them for the transition to Prairie Wind Middle School in fifth grade. The fourth-grade plan will be detailed in next week’s Perham Focus.

ECFE teachers, HOTL Elementary Principle Jen Hendrickson and Chad Bormann of BHH Architects visited the Minnesota State University, Moorhead Early Education Center, YMCA Schlossman Center in Fargo, Rothsay Elementary School/Preschool, Ed Clapp Preschool in Fargo and Stillwater ECFE to see their classrooms and talk to staff about what works in their programs.

Among the positive ideas that resulted from those visits were mirrored windows into the classroom, allowing parents to observe their children without being a distraction, student cubbies located outside of the class, sinks outside of the shared restrooms, useable surfaces on cabinets and windows allowing for natural light. The site review visits also identified a few cons in those school visited, such as no defined entry, a detached or remote playground and limited wall display space.

The task of BHH Architects, the local company hired by the district to design the school addition, is to find a way to incorporate the best ideas from those visits within the approved budget.

The plan of architects Tony Stoll and Chad Bormann includes a defined entrance to the preschool area, classrooms that share a bathroom with sinks separate from the toilets, an easily accessible playground, a classroom for three-year-olds with its own bathroom facility and indoor space for play. The design also makes the transition to kindergarten easier as those classrooms are close to the preschool area, Bormann said.

“We are still working out some of details of the entries,” Bormann said, “primarily because few schools have the preschools attached. It’s usually a separate location. In this day and age building security is most important.”

A fenced playground will be located close to the pre-school area for these young students, he said.

To create safe access to a playground area for older elementary students, work done on the bus corral last year will continue with further improvements. While the bus exit to Coney Street was created with a Safe Routes to School grant to alleviate congestion on Second, it didn’t allow safe access to the playground area, Bormann said. By creating an entrance to bus parking off of Coney, moving it farther west and converting the former asphalt lot to green space, access to the playground will be unimpeded by bus traffic.

The school district expects to begin the bid process and present the plan for state review by May 5, with construction slated to start in early June. Completion is anticipated by Christmas break this year, with students starting 2017 in the new additions, Superintendent Mitch Anderson said.

“There was a lot of discussion about if that was a good time (to make the move),” he said, “but the kids will be so excited to get into the new building. It’s preferable to waiting until the following fall.”